Sierra Leone's capital Freetown goes into a two-week lockdown starting Monday, as the government revises measures to contain the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sierra Leone remains one of the countries least hit by the pandemic, in terms of both cases and fatalities.
But the government said a steady rise in new cases since December has necessitated a review of the measures.
The National Covid-19 Response Center (NaCOVERC) last week announced sweeping measures that include the shutting of the Western Area, which entails the capital city and its surrounding communities, from the rest of the country.
Nobody will be allowed to enter or leave the area under lockdown, except essential personnel and travellers who have special permission and a negative Covid-19 test result.
A 7-hour curfew nationwide, from 10pm to 5am, will also come into effect on Monday.
In the new measures, bars and restaurants countrywide are prohibited from operating, while sporting activities will only be allowed indoors and with no spectators. Worshippers will only be allowed to congregate in houses of worship for one and a half hours.
NaCOVERC said that it would also conduct community testing.
In addition, only people with negative Covid-19 test results will be allowed to board a plane. All inbound passengers will be required to complete a locator form, through which they can be located and subjected to treatment if their test results turn out to be positive for the coronavirus.
The current measures will be reviewed after two weeks.
At the beginning of this year, the country introduced strict screening of travellers at the airport following the sharp rise in coronavirus cases which was blamed on inbound travellers.
Until the beginning of December, Sierra Leone had been praised for successfully containing the spread of the virus, being one of the countries in Africa with the lowest cumulative number of cases of the pandemic. The country then was recording few daily cases and sometimes going for days without recording any new case.
However, cases began spiking at the beginning of the December festive season, according to the NaCOVERC which said every indication pointed to a worrying trend of community transmission.
“Since December 2020, we have seen an exponential rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases largely attributed to the festive season. Between December 1, 2020 and January 18, 2021, positive cases from routine tests and outbound passengers alone account for over 80 percent of confirmed cases,” the head of the NaCOVERC and Defence Minister, Brigadier (Rtd) Kellie Hassan Conteh, said in a statement.
“This strongly indicates active community transmission.”
Officials are also concerned about reports of a variant coronavirus in some parts of the world and NaCOVERC says it is investigating any possible case in the country.
By Sunday, Sierra Leone had recorded 3,139 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 77 deaths.
Global cases stood at over 99.7 million with Africa accounting for 3.4 million cases.
Sierra Leone recorded its first Covid-19 case on March 31, 2020. The government in June began relaxing restrictive measures as a result of drop in cases. The measures included a nationwide 10-hour curfew and ban on gathering, including religious congregation.